What the hell?

Column by Rev. Gretta Vosper on 14 July 2022 0 Comments

While at theological college, a challenge seized with an eager ferocity, was the imperative attributed to theologian Karl Barth that we preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

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Q&A July 14, 2022 - What are the requirements to be considered a progressive Christian?


Dear Reader,

We need to begin by reminding ourselves that there were two different lineages and starting points within the umbrella known as progressive Christianity. All of them spring forth as responses to post-modernism. The original form of it, known as “progressive Christianity,” was an evolution from mainline liberal Christianity and was an heir of the Social Gospel movement. Examples of this include the work of Jim Adams, Jim Burklo, Fred Plumer, John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, David Felton, Jeff Procter-Murphy, and Diana Butler Bass.

The other form of it was originally known as “emerging Christianity” and similarly, was a response to post-modernism – but within the evangelical world. That cohort of thinkers had a different starting point and tend to maintain some more conventional views about theology but as the years have passed, there has been less of a gap between the two sub-movements. They are known for their efforts in “deconstructing.”

With that said, to answer your question, in short, there aren’t any. Pretty much by definition, progressive Christianity seeks to avoid any particular set of creeds, doctrines, or dogmas that persons who identify as progressive Christians “must” adhere to – rather the opposite of fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. That said, there have been some attempts to create working definitions, lists of tendencies, etc.

E.g., Progressive Christianity is a post-liberal approach to the Christian faith that is influenced by postmodernism and: proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as Christ; emphasizes the Way and teachings of Jesus, not merely His person; emphasizes God’s immanence not merely God’s transcendence; leans toward panentheism rather than supernatural theism; emphasizes salvation here and now instead of primarily in heaven later; emphasizes being saved for robust, abundant/eternal life over being saved from hell; emphasizes the social/communal aspects of salvation instead of merely the personal; stresses social justice, environmental protection, and non-violence as integral to Christian discipleship; takes the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally, embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding; emphasizes orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy (right actions over right beliefs); embraces reason as well as paradox and mystery — instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas; does not consider homosexuality to be sinful; and does not claim that Christianity is the only valid or viable way to connect to God (is non-exclusive).”

The Board of Directors of the ProgressiveChristianity.Org is switching from having an “8 Points of Progressive Christianity” (which itself had several iterations over the years) to the soon-to-be-released new version “Core Values of Progressive Christianity”:

By calling ourselves Progressive Christians we mean we are Christians who:
1. Believe that following the way and teachings of Jesus can lead to experiencing sacredness, wholeness, and unity of all life, even as we recognize that the Spirit moves in beneficial ways in many faith traditions.

2. Seek community that is inclusive of all people, honoring differences in theological perspective, age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, class, or ability.
3. Strive for peace and justice among all people, knowing that behaving with compassion and selfless love towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe. 
4. Embrace the insights of contemporary science and strive to protect the Earth and ensure its integrity and sustainability. 
5. Commit to a path of life-long learning, believing there is more value in questioning than in absolutes.
It should be said that progressive Christianity tends to hold such stances and positions loosely and understands them as works in progress that are open to being modified and changed as new information warrants.

At a minimum, it can be said that a significant percentage of progressive Christians:
* are fully LGBTQI+ inclusive and reject homophobia, transphobia, etc.
* embraces contemporary science
* embrace women’s role in the leadership of the Church (as clergy, bishops, etc.).
* reject racism
* reject the notion that Christianity has a monopoly on God and how God operates in the world
Many, if not most, also:
* reject classism and Christian nationalism
And rather a lot also reject the substitutionary theory of the atonement, the notion of original sin, the concept of hell as a place of punishment after people die, the virgin birth, a physical resurrection of Jesus, and literalism as a primary way to understand the scriptures. And quite a few are open to diverse understandings of the Trinity and/or divinity of Jesus.

It should also be said that progressive Christianity isn’t progressive politics  – though there is often much overlap.

I hope this helps! Blessings to you on your journey in faith,

~ Rev. Roger Wolsey




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